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Scam artist targets English-speaking jobseekers

Published on: 23 Sep 2008 19:07 CET

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Detectives are currently conducting a series of investigations involving a large number of victims around Sweden, mainly in Stockholm and Gothenburg. Magnus Schildt, the officer in charge of tracking down the alleged scam artist, indicated the investigation was significant: “We are talking about a large sum of money and many fraudulently employed people.”

The losses sustained by the victims far exceed what the scam artist could gain in profit for himself. His victims work without pay for weeks or even months. Others, like advertisers, service providers, landlords and web designers are left with unpaid invoices for goods or services rendered. Genuine job seekers lose time and large amounts of money on travel and relocation costs.

It all begins with an advertisement, like this one on Swedish job site Jobsafari.se: “2 Assistants required for finance and law firm.”

The firm, Parker & Wilde, gives a Gothenburg address on the advertisements. But the doors of the Gothenburg office are locked and none of the utilities are connected. Neither the company nor the jobs exist in reality.

Jobs which do not require more than English are coveted by the English-speaking community in Sweden who need work but have not yet managed to master Swedish. These two advertised positions should equate to two golden tickets to newly landed immigrants.

Nelson Mendonca, a 37-year-old from India, applied for one of the jobs in August. He was thrilled when the CEO, Michael Parker, requested he travel to Gothenburg for an interview.

Mendonca turned to the employment agency, Arbetsförmedingen, to pay for the train ticket, which it routinely does for unemployed jobseekers. The first warning sign came when the agency was unable to find Parker and Wilde in its registry of companies.

But experienced scam artists know how to get around the system and managed to get the agency to issue a customer identification number.

“They had a website and we spoke to someone in the company,” said Eva Hansson Törngren, from the agency’s Kalmar office.

Back from his interview, Mendonca received word he had got the job.

“I was so happy to get a foot in [Swedish] society and the job market.”

Almost immediately, Mendonca received instructions that he was to start working as soon as possible. Eager to make a positive impression, he rushed his relocation, rented accommodation in Gothenburg and reported to work.

He found another new employee also waiting and wondering why the company’s doors were locked and the lights were off.

It was also at this time that three other existing employees (two Swedes and one immigrant from the UK) got word that Michael Parker was a bogus name, Parker & Wilde was a meticulously invented entity and no one would ever see an income payment.

Eva Hansson Törngren added a warning to job seekers: “Unfortunately there are always dubious companies advertising. It’s important for job applicants to look at a potential employer very carefully.”

None of the victims of ‘Michael Parker’ understands the motivation to fool them. While all of them lost promised income and other expenses, no one actually lost money directly to Parker. What was in it for him?

The scammer lives on a pyramid of victims, each in turn lending credibility and aiding the scam artist. The eager, non Swedish-speaking applicant is certainly more vulnerable to deception and fraud. Michael Parker does not seem exclusively interested in financial gain, but also the thrill of pulling off the scam.

Another victim, John (not his real name) – originally from Scotland - believed that one reason he was chosen was specifically that he could not understand Swedish. “Michael was always on the phone in Swedish. I never knew what he was talking about.”

The only financial gain for Michael Parker seems to come through acquiring computers bought on credit for the fake company, Parker and Wilde. John was instructed to arrange the purchase of over 30 laptop computers.

John, who also found his job from the Job Safari site, became the cornerstone of the deceit for other job hopefuls. Promised an incredible monthly salary of 47,000 kronor ($6,900), John burned the midnight oil for Michael Parker as his assistant and office manager. In the five weeks John thought he was on the clock he took only two days off.

During John’s five-week intense employment as Parker’s right hand man, he witnessed many peculiarities. He thought it odd that despite a significant number of planned meetings with clients, no clients ever showed up.

“Michael always gave an excuse for what had happened to [the clients],” John explained. “Either they had missed their flight or they had some other unforeseen detour.”

Today John can look back and recount a long list of signals which he described as “dodgy”. Yet, John decided to override his instincts: “When you’ve been trying to get a job for a long time you don’t question [things]”

Håkan Benjaminsson of Snabb Design, designer of the Parker and Wilde website, can only repeat that Michael Parker seemed credible and trustworthy. Even background and peripheral details rounded out the picture of authenticity. “Any time I called, an English-speaking receptionist answered the phone, it all seemed too believable.”

The website is indeed believable. Snabb Design put together a sleek and snazzy website in just 72 hours. Unfortunately though, Snabb Design was never paid.

Despite the ongoing police investigation for crimes of fraud, much of the damage caused is not legally criminal. This is how Michael Parker flies under the radar. Many of the complaints against him are civil and not criminal. It’s easier for victims to scurry away with their tails tucked between legs then file a complaint.

One person who did try to pursue the matter is Anders Malm of SLD Foto. He only lost his fee and a laptop. However, he has recorded and archived a series of Michael Parker’s events since he was fooled by him. Anders gladly provides Michael Parker’s real name, his photo and any other available information.

Mari Möllerborg at Job Safari confirmed that there is an outstanding unpaid balance of 57,960 kronor for Parker and Wilde. Despite the debt and awareness of the background, the ad was still up when this article was published. And the Parker and Wilde website is still on line.

The last sighting of Michael Parker confirmed by The Local was on August 21st, when Parker and John were returning from a meeting in Copenhagen. Originally, Parker was supposed to change trains in Malmö and continue to Stockholm. Instead, he stood as the train pulled in to Kastrup and announced he would take a flight instead.

There is reason to believe he may be operating in Copenhagen and still targeting English speakers in southern Sweden.

There has been no answer at the listed corporate telephone numbers, emails have not been answered and neither Michael Parker nor any other representative of Parker and Wilde were available for comment.

Elizabeth Dacey-Fondelius(news@thelocal.se)